A migrant detention centre in Zintan | Photo: Screengrab/InfoMigrants
A migrant detention centre in Zintan | Photo: Screengrab/InfoMigrants

In recent years terrifying accounts and images of migrants’ suffering in Libya, especially in the country’s detention centres, have spread across the world. The migrants’ journey through Libya is divided up into several stages, with each leg characterized by its own cruel reality. InfoMigrants has spoken with a source in Libya, who is familiar with the mechanisms of the smuggling networks and how migrants are moved inside the country before they are finally put on boats to Europe. In this part of our series we take you through the last leg of their journey to Tripoli, with details we have never shared before.

In this second part of our two-part series, our well-informed source in Libya describes how the detention mechanisms in Libya work and how the smugglers transport migrants, as well as the connection between some smuggling networks and police and law enforcement officers. (Click here to read part one).

Armed Libyans, Chadians and Sudanese

On the road to Tripoli, the migrants must first pass through a city called Al-Jafra, where they are handed over to a new group of smugglers who search them and confiscate their belongings all over again. The convoy then continues to a city called Al-Zillah, where they are put up in a farm for 24 hours before being put on buses.

Once on the buses, the migrants are driven deep into the desert, where they are met by groups of men with cars with no seats. Migrants are randomly crammed into these cars. Each car can fit 10 to 12 people. The drivers, who wear military uniform, then take them back to Al-Jafra, and hand them over to a specific militia - its members are a mixture of Libyan, Chadian and Sudanese, some of whom belong to the Janjawid - and transport them to the city of Bani Walid.

Although this process may seem unnecessarily long and complicated, it allows for the smugglers to avoid police and military checkpoints as well as other gangs who may try to kidnap the migrants.

Coordination between smugglers and security forces in Choueiref?

From Bani Walid, another group will transport the migrants across the desert and into the city of Choueirif, where many of them will face unspeakable tragedies.

Throughout their entire journey, the migrants do not know whether they have been sold off to gangs or not, and have no say on neither the route nor the timing of their movements – those who ask questions risk painful punishments.

After the migrants reach Choueiref, the migrants are left on a farm where they are put up in large metal containers. Although the migrants are free to move around both in and outside of the farm, they are constantly guarded. The activities on the farm are in clear view for anyone to see, indicating security forces in the area may be cooperating with the smugglers.

After having spent an unspecified amount of time on this farm, the migrants are then transported to the city of Nessma. In Nessma, the smugglers will sell off the migrants who have run out of money. These migrants face unimaginable horrors. They will be sold off a second, third, or even a fourth time - until they either die, or manage to escape…

Return to Bani Walid...

The other migrants are transported back to Bani Walid, where there are armed men in uniform waiting for them in cars. They are then brought into the city through its main entrance - passing through police and army checkpoints without anyone stopping them.

Bani Walid is notorious for human trafficking, and the city largely relies on it for its income.

In Bani Walid, the migrants are left in large warehouses guarded by armed men. The warehouses are in plain sight, and contains migrants from all over Africa.

Inside the warehouses, there are all sorts of horrors taking place: the migrants are beaten, tortured, raped, and killed. For the migrants with money, however, the situation is different.

Some migrants kept in the warehouses have been there for years, some of whom have been sold countless times.

Our source recounted how he had recently witnessed the bodies of a Somalian and an Eritrean being carried out of one of the warehouses and dumped in the yard in front of it. One of the smugglers had then asked the guard what had happened, and once he had been informed that they had died of disease and malnutrition, he asked whether they had paid the money they owned before they died.

The migrants who survive Bani Walid continue their journey to Tripoli.

Unfortunately, the event described above is just one example of the many of horrors migrants suffer in Libya, including rape and organ theft. For the smugglers, the migrants are merely “commodities”, and there is no respect for human life whatsoever.

InfoMigrants has previously documented some of these cases, through testimonies we have received from migrants who were victims of human trafficking in Libya.


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